REVIEW: Forza Motorsport (2023)
October 4, 2023
Written by Jamie Galea
There’s been quite a lot that’s happened in the racing game scene since Turn 10 released Forza Motorsport 7 way back in 2017. In the six years between releases, Motosport was put on the backburner while the Horizon series thrived thanks to two good, if not familiar, releases. Polyphony Digital even managed to announce and release a new Gran Turismo game during this time! After an excruciatingly long wait, Microsoft’s premier racing game is back in the form of Forza Motorsport, the eighth game in the series, and it’s maybe the most ambitious entry in the series to date.
At its core, Forza Motorsport strips out a lot of the excesses that the series has had over the years. The mod system is thankfully gone, as are any microtransactions. Most of the esoteric types of racing are gone, so if you were a fan of racing trucks in Forza Motorsport 7, I’ve got some bad news for you. The vehicle selection also reflects this, focusing on around 500 or so cars that seem more suited to racing than what you’d find in Gran Turismo or even Forza Horizon. There’s some oddities and surprises (such as Ayrton Senna’s 1998 McLaren F1 car), but for the most part, it’s pretty standard fare here.
Oh what a feeling to see Toyota back in racing games.
For most people, the career mode will be their first port of call. Initially, it doesn’t immediately stand out as something special: every event is comprised of five to six races with a limit on what car you can use (such as JDM, Hatches etc). However, there’s a unique wrinkle: you’re able to upgrade your car between races, and build it into something different. As you race, you earn experience points to level up your car, where you’re able to upgrade parts as per necessary. Levelling up also means you’re able to unlock different categories of parts, with the idea that you start at a low level and build, and customise the car into whatever you want it to be. Any money you earn is now dedicated solely to buying cars.
Here’s an example. During one series of events, I chose to race in a 1988 Holden VL Commodore Group A SV. It’s a car better known as a Walkinshaw, and one of the most iconic Australian cars ever made. It’s a car whose legendary status I’m well versed in, thanks to my Holden loving dad, who owned one of the 750 Walkinshaws that were made (his was #220). Fortunately my dad won’t be reading this, so I can safely say that while the car is great in a straight line, it has a stupidly large turning circle and can’t brake to save its life. The series I just so happened to race in featured tracks with plenty of hairpins, which made driving that car unbearable.
As I levelled up the car and earned experience, I could use what I had to try and make the car more drivable and be able to actually brake and turn, or I could use what I had to try and make the car even faster at the cost of being able to turn worth a damn. There’s no real wrong way to build out the car, it all depends on how you wish to play the game.
While it does turn into min/maxing just how much you can get out of your resources, it’s pretty fun to tinker and see what you can get away with. If you really can’t be bothered, the game has an automatic upgrader that does a decent enough job if you’re willing to sacrifice a specific build in mind.
Annoyingly, the only real issue with this system is that it locks certain things behind levelling that are more than a bit important. For instance, different tyre compounds are locked behind car level, so if you’re coming into a race that has wet weather, you not only need to be levelled up appropriately but also have selected the compound that allows different tyre types before the race. If you do either of those, have fun trying to be competitive in the wet.
Fun fact: Did you know the Walkinshaw was only ever available in one colour, fittingly named Panorama Silver?
As for the part where you’re driving a speedy race car, Forza Motorsport presents a bigger focus on wanting to make you a better driver, and it shows in the trackday experience. Every event now kicks off with a practice session where you get three laps (plus ten additional minutes) to get used to the track. While you can skip it to get to the race, the rewards are definitely worth it as is the actual experience feeling out the car and the current setup on any given track.
Where the practice mode really shines is that there’s an attempt to acclimatise you towards key sections by timing how fast you progress through them. There’s something about trying to see how fast you can take Suzuka’s spoon corner or Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew that sounds satisfying, but the only feedback you’re really given is how fast or slow you took the section. There’s no attempt by the game to explain where or when you should brake or what part of the apex you should be hitting, which would help a bit more than the timer.
The same goes with the track feedback system. As you take each individual section, you’re graded from 1.0 to 10.0 based on how well you took any corners and managed to keep to the racing line. While it’s an important part of levelling up your car, again, the game offers you no real feedback to improve upon. Even if you think you took the section well, the score might not always reflect that, leaving you scratching your head as to how you could’ve possibly made that section even better.
Then there’s the addition of penalties. Throughout a race, you can either be dinged on collisions or going off track, which can result in time added to your overall race, which can affect your finishing position. If you laughed off the Gran Turismo Sport Racing Etiquette videos because you were only ever going to play single player, have I got some news for you. It’s the single biggest change to racing the series has seen yet, because it’s meant that intentionally being a bad driver will no longer have any reward to it. Unlike so much of the game, you can’t even turn this off, only change how strict the penalties can be.
It’s seen a massive change in how I approach each race. While races are still chaotic enough that you won’t really escaped unscathed, I’ve definitely thought twice about whether that risky inside cut or dive bomb might not be worth it if it means that I’m risking getting a time penalty by doing so. Doubly so since you get significantly more car experience by driving well, with your rating tanking if you go off track or collide with another car. At the same time, it’s also caused me to find new ways to push the car and my driving without going over track limits or hitting other cars, which is really rewarding. I’m making it sound worse than it really is, but as long as you’re not gaining any real advantage by being a menace, you’ll be fine.
And then there’s the things specifically added to the tracks in this game, such as dynamic weather and day/night cycles. It does make an impact, particularly when racing in the wet, as you’ll be trying to find whatever dry line you can to help make the race potentially winnable. All this, combined with some amazing sound design, and it makes for a great time racing.
To the surprise of nobody, this game is very pretty.
This ties into what is still best thing about this series, the amount to which you can customize the overall experience. If you want to have the game be as challenging of a simulation as it can be, you can have that. If you want a more forgiving experience, you can have that. Even if you’re not intimately familiar with the way motorsport tends to work, you can turn on highlights and assist for things like the track limits so you know what to avoid and gradually ease into it all.
One newer aspect that I really appreciate is how the game handles its rewards via its difficulty. Effectively there are now three main modifiers – the severity of the rule set, how fast you want the drivatars to be, and where you choose to start on the grid. For the races where you don’t need to participate in qualification, you can choose anywhere on the grid to start barring the front row, and as long as you place within the top three, you’ll get that credit payout. It’s a good balance between risk and reward, especially if you feel your car isn’t as competitive as the rest of the field.
Going in step with this is the slew of accessibility options available to the player, particularly the lengths the game goes to in order to accomodate vision impared players. From panning audio depending on what direction you need to turn the car, to various tones and cues to indicate proximity to the track limits or acceleration/deceleration, to even rally co-driver style pace notes; the game goes a long way in ensuring that anyone can play this game, and that’s fantastic.
The only real complaint I have about the game is that it doesn’t really feel like there’s a lot to do. Aside from the career mode and online racing, you’ve got the standard free race mode plus the Rivals mode, where you battle against online ghost times. The last thing I want to do is compare Forza to Gran Turismo, but Turn 10 are actively taking a page out of Polyphony’s book by announcing a slew of free additional content coming to the game, such as additional career events, tracks, cars and more.
While it means in a year or so there’s going to be a lot more to do, fixing this issue somewhat, it’s not at all representative of the game you’re gonna play at launch. While the career has some length to it, and there’s a slew of multiplayer options, unless you want to go all in on Rivals and practicing tracks, it can feel like you’ve seen everything in the game really early in the overall experience.
Yet despite that shortcoming, there’s still plenty to like in Forza Motorsport. It represents Turn 10’s best vision for racing yet, with some of the most rewarding racing seen in the series. The new take on career mode is fun, even if the levelling system can sometimes get in the way of how you’d want to actually drive the car at times. It’s going to be fascinating to see where Turn 10 take the game in the future, but if you’re after a good racing game right now, Forza Motorsport is worth spending time with.
This game was reviewed on an Xbox Series X using a review code provided by the publisher. For more opinions on cool cars, follow Jamie over on Twitter at @jamiemgalea.